May 11, 2009, 05:48AM

The Beard Makes the Man

Ranking the "bewhiskered bards" by the Underwood Pogonometric Index. You know, it's science-y and shit.

Poets Ranked by Beard Weight is the centerpiece of Underwood's estimable, if fetish-fueled treatise on pogonology, or the study of whiskers and associated lore. First published in England on the eve of The Great War, this quaint publication takes the reader on a fascinating excursion through such topics as False Beards, Merkins, and Capillamenta (chin wigs); Effusions of the Scalp and Face; Celebrated Chaetognaths (chaetognathous = hairy-jawed); and even includes an affectionate mini-essay about the wooly mammoth! Poets Ranked by Beard Weight forms a special section devoted to bewhiskered bards.

In forming crinoid comparisons amongst these august worthies, our self-appointed arbiter of all things fuzzy and frizzy applies a grading system structured as a sliding scale he has unassumingly named the Underwood Pogonometric Index. This admirable instrument of scientific classification gauges the presence and projection of a "galvanic imponderable" Underwood calls poetic gravity -- an intangible property which results from the aesthetic "charge" of the beard itself rather than from any intrinsic ability or merit attaching to the wearer in question or to his literary productions. Underwood's index is intended as an adjunct to broad-based beard typology, which tends to focus on detailed physical features such as kinks, curls, knots and braids, and on their qualitative differences, as between bristles and vibrissae or the wispy versus the filamentous. As in his earlier work Whiskers of the World, Underwood touches on such diverse matters as beard hygiene and methods for perfuming, diagrams how the ancient Assyrians anchored their beards with ornamental weights, points out how beards were thought to shield against evil, and outlines an axiom of general beard theory called crinous consequence -- the relationship between history's highest civilizations and the hirsute grandeur of their male populations. Next, the study establishes the inseparability of the perception of the emphatically bearded physiognomy from the indelible image of the biblical prophets and, plausibly if not altogether convincingly, cites this phenomenon as an explanation of the prevalent nineteenth century idea that the poet is an agent of clairvoyance and an intermediary between mortals and oracular messengers from a higher plane.


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